PLOT: Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren are demonologists who are called upon to help a family thatís being terrorized by a demonic spirit. Oh yeah, and its ďinspired by true eventsĒ. Umm hmm.
REVIEW: Iíve long been fascinated by Ed and Lorraine Warren. A couple of years ago, I had a job as an overnight operator at an AM radio station that used to run Coast to Coast AM with Art Bell every night. For those of you who donít know the show, itís all about paranormal phenomenon, and itís got a huge cult following thatís so fierce that on nights when the satellite broke down and we had to air re-runs, Iíd get flooded with calls by irate local listeners. Ed Warren passed away in 2006, but his wife Lorraine often appeared on the show to discuss the various cases they were involved in, including the infamous Amityville case.
Iím definitely skeptical about all the Warrensí claims, although part of me believes that the devoutly religious Warrens actually believed what they were doing was Godís work. Last year, the Fantasia Film festival played an interesting doc called MY AMITYVILLE HORROR that took a skeptics look at their most famous case. The Warrens are back at Fantasia with THE CONJURING, but being a mainstream Hollywood horror film, itís anything but skeptical about their claims.
Then again, I guess THE CONJURING would be a pretty boring movie if director James Wan didnít thoroughly invest in the tall tales told by Ed and Lorraine. I have no idea how truthful THE CONJURING is (my bet- not much) but damn if itís not a terrifically entertaining movie. Hauntings arenít necessarily a new thing for Wan, having done INSIDIOUS (as well as the upcoming INSIDIOUS PART 2) but if that was a riff on POLTERGEIST, this is more THE AMITYVILLE HORROR by way of THE EXORCIST.
More than anything, itís a love letter to character-driven, seventies horror. For a good half hour, Wan takes his time setting up both The Warrens and the family thatís being terrorized, The Perrons. A working class couple (Ron Livingston & Lili Taylor) heading a family of five children, all of them girls, The Perrons are instantly likable. Taylor especially hasnít had a role this strong in a while, and towards the end much of the emotional investment the audience will feel in the story will center on her and her relationship with her kids.
However the real stars of the show are Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as the Warrens. Wilsonís worked with Wan before (INSIDEOUS) and plays Ed Warren as a man of faith, who doesnít personally have a connection to the supernatural, but firmly believes in it and approaches it both scientifically and religiously. Much of the film is told through the eyes of Lorraine Warren, who weíre told is a clairvoyant whoís haunted by each of their cases, but is nonetheless compelled to help those in need. Farmiga, whoís already one of the top actresses working today, is really establishing herself as a serious horror star, thanks to this and her work on BATES MOTEL. She approaches THE CONJURING the same way she would something like UP IN THE AIR or THE DEPARTED, and fully invests all of her (considerable) talents to make Lorraine Warren a character youíll care about. Sheís absolutely terrific in the part.
While INSIDIOUS was mostly scary due to its intensity rather than carnage, with THE CONJURING James Wanís once again working with an R-rating, although itís still pretty tame, and what little violence there is pretty far removed from the carnage of something like SAW. Itís not gratuitous (I think it could have squeezed by with a PG-13). THE CONJURING really does feel like the kind of horror movie that would have come out in the mid-seventies (the time period this takes place in, so expect lots of garish clothing), and backs up all of its scares with a compelling story, and a lot of technical skill, including a good musical score by Joseph Bishara and creepy photography by DP John Leonetti, whoís been working with Wan since DEAD SILENCE.
While I seriously doubt that the events that inspired THE CONJURING were in any way supernatural (although you never know-oooooooh), it canít be denied that THE CONJURING is a pretty damn good horror movie, and refreshingly free of cheap scares. Hopefully audiences will flock to see this, as itís a nice departure from the B-level, micro-budget horror movies we usually get. THE CONJURING is a real A-movie, and reminds me of a time when horror movies were taken seriously. Hopefully that time will come again.